Writing Glitch #237

Today’s glitch:


Cant is a real word, and its meaning is nothing like the meaning of can’t. Don’t mistake the two or write one in place of the other. If you mean can not, you must use an apostrophe in the shortened form.

A compound sentence doesn’t have to be just two sentences joined by a conjunction. The second sentence is compound and made up of not two but three shorter sentences, so you need a comma to separate the first from the second and the second from the third.

The part beginning with it’s the app follows logically and smoothly from you’re woken up. There is no abrupt change in direction within the sentence, so an em-dash is incorrect. I used a semicolon, but a period would also work.

Yesterday you found a new app on your phone. It doesn’t open, you can’t delete it, and you don’t know what it is. Tonight, you’re woken by an alert on your phone; it’s the app notifying you of some very specific instructions.

This is still not quite right… Let’s see if (not that there’s any doubt!) it will work better once we tidy up the verb tenses.

Yesterday you found a new app on your phone. It didn’t open, you couldn’t delete it, and you didn’t know what it was. The next night, you were woken by an alert on your phone; it was the app notifying you of some very specific instructions.

If you want to eliminate very from your writing, replace very specific with precise.


About Thomas Weaver

I’m a writer and editor who got into professional editing almost by accident years ago when a friend from university needed someone to copyedit his screenplay about giant stompy robots (mecha). Having discovered that I greatly enjoy this kind of work, I’ve been putting my uncanny knack for grammar and punctuation, along with an eclectic mental collection of facts, to good use ever since as a Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom. I'm physically disabled, and for the past several years, I’ve lived with my smugly good-looking twin Paul, who writes military science fiction and refuses to talk about his military service because he can’t. Sometimes Paul and I collaborate on stories, and sometimes I just edit whatever he writes. It's worked out rather well so far. My list of non-writing-related jobs from the past includes librarian, art model, high school teacher, science lab gofer… Although I have no spouse or offspring to tell you about, I do have six cats. (The preferred term is "Insane Cat Gentleman.") I currently spend my time blogging, reading, editing, and fending off cats who like my desk better than my twin’s.
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5 Responses to Writing Glitch #237

  1. M.L.S.Weech says:

    I have a question regarding this sentence:

    “It didn’t open, you couldn’t delete it, and you didn’t know what it was.”

    There’s some debate in my circle as to why a comma would work in that series of independent clauses. While the three clauses are completed with a coordinating conjunction, there are still two independent clauses separated by a comma. Can you provide some insight (with references, as I’m honestly trying to hone this as an instructor) on why you can use a comma in this case? Why not “It didn’t open. You couldn’t delete it, and you didn’t know what it was.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not up to typing a full explanation right now (currently fighting off a migraine headache brought on by changes in air pressure), but I promise I WILL get back to this tomorrow or the next day.

      Short answer now, though: If you prefer, you could write “It didn’t open. You couldn’t delete it, and you didn’t know what it was.” That way works, too; it’s just a little bit choppier, and sometimes you may want a choppy paragraph.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Further explanation (from The Chicago Manual of Style, 6.28): “If the [independent] clauses are very short and closely connected, the comma may be omitted unless the clauses are part of a series.” That’s why you shouldn’t leave the last comma out if you DO write all those independent clauses into one sentence, which also strongly implies that it’s quite acceptable to string more than two independent clauses together. (The example given in CMS is “Donald cooked, Sally trimmed the tree, and Maddie and Cammie offered hors d’oeuvres.” The sentence contains three independent clauses — just like the example I used for the “glitch” post — with only a comma between the first two.)

        (All i could come up with a few days ago was, “It’s both a compound sentence and a ‘list’ of sorts.” For some reason, having a lot of pain on one side of my head makes both sides of my brain work less efficiently.)


  2. M.L.S.Weech says:

    I’m also currently trying to pretend I don’t have two punctuation errors in my question regarding punctuation. If only I could edit a comment like I can in other social media posts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t pay any attention to punctuation errors in comments unless the comment is ABOUT the punctuation and the person who made the comment has a question about it. (Suddenly, I realize that I CAN turn off my “superpower” sometimes… This makes me feel a lot better. Maybe I can read just for enjoyment again now.)


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